The City of Irpin in Ukraine announced in early July that it would begin the production of an inspirational mural as a symbol of international friendship with its Sister City of Milwaukee, for display at Mitchell Airport.
The ambitious artwork project took some early inspiration from a series of murals installed around war-damaged areas of Iprin in 2022 by international artists, including Banksy. But the main catalyst came from the backlash over a Soviet-era mural donated by the city of St. Petersburg, then known as Leningrad.
The clay artwork had been on display at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport since the last days of the Cold War in 1989. It was covered up in March of 2022 amid the widespread anti-Russian protests in Milwaukee over the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
While the proposed Irpin mural was not directly intended to replace the physical space occupied by the very large Russian clay mural, the core idea was to elevate attention away from the controversial artwork by showcasing Milwaukee’s Sister City bond with Irpin.
During her recent meeting in Irpin with city leaders to discuss humanitarian projects, Anya Verkhovskaya, director of the Milwaukee-based nonprofit Friends of Be an Angel, also offered feedback on Mayor Oleksandr Markushin’s mural idea.
“When the war started, the Russian mural was covered and it remains an empty wall at the airport,” said Verkhovskaya. “During their video meeting on June 27, Mayor Markushin suggested to Mayor Cavalier Johnson that the wall should be repurposed, or perhaps a more appropriate space set aside, in honor of Irpin. That way all the people who live in the Metro Milwaukee area, which is about 2.5 million, as well as all the travelers who come and go through the airport, will learn about the ‘Hero City of Irpin’ and its special relationship with Milwaukee.”
The main concept for the project involves the children of Irpin, who would create artwork for the airport display. Possibilities for physical and digital installations are being considered.
“We envision a time in the near future when a mural created by the talented children of Irpin will be on display at Milwaukee Mitchell Airport, symbolizing the deep and enduring Sister City friendship between our two communities,” said Mayor Markushin in a post on social media. “It is through initiatives like this that we can foster cross-cultural understanding, promote better awareness, and inspire future generations to embrace unity and friendship. I look forward to the day when this vision becomes a reality, and the mural serves as a testament to the lasting connection between Irpin and Milwaukee.”
Another idea for the project also involves a series of mural displays that rotates artwork by different artists over a year. It could have a reciprocal component where murals from Milwaukee artists are concurrently displayed in Irpin.
The hope from the City of Irpin is to get Milwaukee’s vibrant and diverse art community involved in the process, which is one of the purposes of the Sister City program – to create cultural exchanges and opportunities to promote peace and understanding.
Plans are already underway for a cooperative construction project that would see the Milwaukee business community help build a new world-class art center in Irpin.
Mayor Markushin said that the mural initiative could open the door for more creative partnerships, like the Milwaukee Bucks sponsoring the rebuilding of a team-branded basketball court at one of the schools in Irpin damaged during the Russian invasion.
On March 15, 2018, then-mayor of Milwaukee Tom Barrett signed an agreement with Irpin’s then-Mayor Karplyuk, formalizing the Sister City relationship that had been approved by the Common Council.
Further details for the Sister City mural remain to be worked out between city, county, and airport officials.
Series: Return to Ukraine
- Return to Ukraine: A trauma loop of travel from Milwaukee to a country still at war a year later
- From Weddings to War: How Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov photograph Ukraine's daily horrors
- Being Friends of Angels: The Milwaukee nonprofit saving lives and offering hope in Ukraine
- Mayors of Milwaukee and Irpin expand Sister City cooperation after visit by nonprofit delegation
- Interview with Tom Barrett: U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg reflects on forging ties with Irpin
- Wisconsin Ukrainians host annual fundraising picnic to support homeland on 500th day of war
- Advanced Wireless to donate 840 access points to rebuild Irpin's citywide Wi-Fi network
- Children of Irpin begin planning mural for Mitchell Airport to showcase Sister City friendship
- Irpin is not forgotten: Residents thank Milwaukee Independent for reporting on their "Hero City"
- Milwaukee photojournalist on assignment in Kyiv during July 2 Russian drone strike targeting civilians
- Russian cruise missile attack kills residents far from front lines in Western Ukraine city of Lviv
- Ukraine arrests man accused of directing Russian ballistic missile strike on Kramatorsk pizza parlor
- Milwaukee offers Ukrainian refugee family life-saving treatment for son's genetic condition
- Nikita Pirnach: Irpin student hopes to help his country after finishing education in Milwaukee
- Sick children wait for overseas medical treatments as a new generation is born in Ukraine during war
- Iryna Suslova: The superwoman saving Ukrainian children abducted by Russia
- How a group of Ukrainian mothers, wives, and daughters are distributing vital humanitarian aid
- Freeing Freddie: Educational program aims to reduce PTSD for Ukraine's war-weary children
- The trauma of living: When being killed is the preferred choice to being disfigured from battle
- President Zelenskyy offers gratitude and awards to wounded soldiers while visiting Lviv Hospital
- Former Vice President Mike Pence visits Irpin during unannounced campaign trip to Kyiv
- Military Hospitals provide vital care for Ukrainian soldiers in need of hope and healing
- Combat surgeons pioneer advances in maxillofacial reconstruction of Ukraine's injured heroes
- Milwaukee donors cover cost of reconstructive surgery for American volunteer wounded in battle
- In their own words: Listening to the Voices of Children talk about their experiences from war
- Traumatized by War: Children of Ukraine carry on after losing parents, homes, and innocence
- Widespread Torture: U.N. report documents Russia's systematic executions of Ukrainian civilians
- Wisconsin volunteers sort and pack donated medical supplies for use in Ukraine's hospitals
- Lviv warehouse serves as vital link in medical supply chain from Milwaukee to frontlines
- Aid from Milwaukee is providing internally displaced people in Ukraine with food and clothing
- Iryna Pletnyova: How the city of Uman transformed into a hub for refugees fleeing war
- Bombs in the night: Why children in Uman are still traumatized by Russia's missile attack
- School Bunkers: When a national flag becomes a memorial to dead Ukrainian students
- Hasidic life in Uman: A journey across Ukraine to the Tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
- Tetiana Storozhko: Being a witness to the history of Roma culture in Ukraine
- Remembering Oskar Schindler: A photojournalist’s diary from the streets of Jewish Kraków
CODAworx and City of Irpin
Milwaukee Independent has reported on Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine since it began on February 24, 2022. In May of 2022, Milwaukee Independent was the first news organization from Wisconsin to report from Milwaukee’s Sister City of Irpin after its liberation. That work has since been recognized with several awards for journalistic excellence. Between late June and early July of 2023, Milwaukee Independent staff returned to Ukraine for a second assignment to report on war after almost a year. The editorial team was embedded with a Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, on a humanitarian aid mission across Ukraine. For several weeks, Milwaukee Independent documented the delivery of medical supplies to military and civilian hospitals, and was a witness to historic events of the war as they unfolded.